Los Angeles Airport Police Chief George Centeno has announced that he will step down at the beginning of next year, citing a commitment made to his family.

In an Oct. 28 letter to Airport Police personnel, Centeno said that at the time of his appointment he made it clear to airport management that he intended to serve for five years. Centeno, who joined the Airport Police Division of Los Angeles World Airports as an assistant chief in February 2007, has served as police chief since December 2007.

“While I cannot say that I relish the idea of leaving this organization and the men and women with whom I have been honored to serve, I have a promise to (my family) that I must fulfill,” Centeno wrote.

Prior to his time with LAWA, Centeno was a retired lieutenant who had served with the Santa Monica Police Department for 28 years.

LAWA Executive Director Gina Marie Lindsey said Centeno will leave a department that can take pride in having the largest and best trained airport police force in the nation.

“More than any reference to size and budget, it’s been the steady measured decline in crime at (Los Angeles International Airport) that speaks volumes for the outstanding effectiveness of the force he has commanded,” Lindsey said in a letter to airport personnel.

“I know I echo the thoughts of many of you when I extend my admiration and best wishes to Chief Centeno for all that he’s done to keep L.A.’s airports safe and secure.”

Reflecting on his five years with the Airport Police, Centeno pointed to achievements including the hiring of 130 new officers to make the police force the largest among U.S. airports, and securing an annual budget of more than $126 million. Other highlights include an updated memorandum of agreement with the Los Angeles Police Department at LAX, and increased safety measures such as fixed hydraulic barriers at airfield entry posts, he said.

Centeno noted that LAWA police have also implemented a “trunked” radio system that will eventually allow them to consolidate all radio communications within the three airports — LAX, Ontario and Van Nuys — and across different functional disciplines.

The chief additionally pointed out that violent crime has been reduced by 82 percent and property crime has dropped 59 percent at the airports since 2000.

Centeno’s five-year commitment as chief came as news to Los Angeles Airport Peace Officers Association President Marshall McClain, who said he was eager to see a change in leadership. While some significant accomplishments were completed during Centeno’s tenure, they were already in progress by the time he took over, McClain said.

He said violent crime has dropped at the airport in each of the last seven years but the reduction is a testament to the officers’ work in the field and not the chief of police.

McClain believes the next airport police chief should come from a law enforcement agency that is at least equal in size to or larger than the Airport Police, and be someone who is “politically savvy.”

Centeno said he will work with airport executive management over the next two months to ensure a smooth transition of leadership.